Probably one of the most commonly recognized relaxing sounds is that of waves crashing along a shoreline. But those waves, although relaxing for some, are exhilarating for many.
A couple months ago I recorded the Rev. Matt Lindeman on the Coffee Hour at the Commons podcast, and learned all about his day-off ritual: surfing. Matt has been surfing since he was a kid, and when he came to Connecticut, that practice followed him. Matt invited me back when we were recording to join him and his former youth group at Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport for their annual surfing trip to Narragansett, Rhode Island to try and catch some waves.
So, I joined.
This was the 6th year Trinity, Southport has loaded up the cars, some surfboards, and drove the 113 miles (each way) to Narragansett Beach. Rob Laughton, Associate for Youth and Family Ministries at Trinity, said that he fell into this trip, and that he was “happy to continue something that [the youth group] really seem to love.”
Ryan Moran, an avid surfer and parishioner at Trinity and dad to two graduates of the youth group/surf team, worked with Matt to establish this trip. They have established a working relationship with Warm Winds, a surf shop that has been in Narragansett since 1973, to supply boards and wetsuits for the youth group, and Ryan and Matt serve as the instructors.
“[Surfing] has made me more gracious, thankful, and more appreciative of God’s gifts,” Ryan said. “So, sharing it is not only fulfilling, but I really hope [the youth] will get the joy that I have gotten out of it.”
This year there were 7 youth members and me, suited up and bobbing in the waves. We did have a quick land lesson, practicing how to pop-up on the board, where to stand, and learning hand gestures to signal safety to one another. Though, once we were in the water the experience truly began.
Surfing is that middle ground between relaxing and exhilarating. It is so peaceful to sit on the board and just bob with tide, then the next moment you are hit in the face with a wave and scrambling to get up and hope that there isn’t another wave just behind it ready to knock you out again. It is a little bit like prayer life.
“[Surfing] changes every time I go out, it is prayer life for me,” Matt said. “It is scriptural to me and allows me to be fully alive and present. Somedays I don’t get what I want, the conditions aren’t what I want or I rushed to get to the beach because my kids were running late, and then I am not rewarded with a good surf. There is discipline with surfing, just as with being a Christian.”
But, Matt said, on those days he is usually urged by God to pay attention to the people around him. “I wonder who God put in the water with me that day.” Matt shares that he has had some pretty powerful conversations about Christ, fears, joys, and life with people in the water.
I can understand how that turning your attention to people is rather easy when you are in the water – in Narragansett Beach, there are people surfing everywhere! Matt said this is where people in Rhode Island and Connecticut come to learn. While we were in the water for two hours, there had to have been about 50 other people there surfing. This adds to the exhilaration.
Unless you’re in a secluded bay, surfing is just as relational as it is personal. You are in relationship with the people around you sharing (and looking for) a finite resource – the next wave. You cheer for another person when they catch a great wave, you yell at someone to get out of your way if you’re on the wave, you check in on them after they took a tumble in the crashing wave, and you look out for each other.
Being in the water is a lot like what I think the Kingdom of Heaven is like, and what God’s Kingdom is like here on earth. People are in different places at different times and at different levels. We are all moving and flowing together, in communion, amongst God’s creation. We all experience a similar thing in different ways – we experience God’s love and the power of Christ in ways that are individually unique – much like a surfer experiences a wave differently. And we are all called, as Christians, to care for each other.
On the drive home, I asked Matt about the individuality of surfing. He said “everyone has to find their own surf, something that will help them play and be challenged.” And I think that is true for our own relationship with God, prayer, and the people of Christ – we need to find our own way to participate in the Kingdom of God – a way that allows us to play and to be challenged: to be relaxed and exhilarated.
Oh, and in case you were wondering — yes I stood up (ish) on the board!